With the help of the Knight Foundation, the Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami hopes to elevate Nigerian film into the larger consciousness of the art world. You can count the long-standing museum as one of the 66 finalists vying for a Knight Arts Challenge grant. Executive Director and Chief Curator Bonnie Clearwater notes that "Nollywood," as it is commonly known, is the second-largest film industry in the world. "I was encountering a number of artists who were referencing Nollywood in their work," she says speaking over the phone.
According to Knight's list of finalists, MOCA's plan is to "expose South Florida audiences to global art centers through a film festival focused on cinema in Nigeria, home to one of the largest film industries in the world."
Clearwater researched with a curator she knew in Africa and consulted with the artist Nijideka Akunyili, whose work exudes the colors of Nollywood, Clearwater notes. "Njdeka was able to tell me about the importance of it," she says of Nigerian film, "how it reflects the changing society in Nigeria, why it's so popular internationally as well, so one of the things we do at MOCA is focus phenomena such as the impact that Nollywood is having in its relation to art and culture."
She notes the films are popular internationally, and most are in English. Comcast Xfinity recently made Nollywood films available on demand. Unlike the cinema culture of many countries, Nollywood films are mostly made for TV. It began in the '60s with the help of government funding and Nigerian filmmakers looking for a cheaper alternative to filmmaking.
"And also these stories come from the African point of view, which is very interesting as opposed to the view from the Hollywood perspective," Clearwater says, "and then, on top of that, it's the way these movies are packaged. The design looks rather collaged, with lots of color, and this too has been an influence on artists."
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Clearwater says Akunyili recalled growing up with the TV always playing Nollywood movies, which are characterized by rather complex stories that speak deeply to African culture. "They're actually very long stories, and they really do deal with the changes in society," notes Clearwater. "For instance, it deals with relationships, particularly taboo relationships. Marriage in Nigeria is about bringing families together, so it's not just two individuals marrying. It's about families being joined, so romances deal a lot with this kind of issue. They also deal with black magic, mythologies, and they typically can run like three hours long."
The idea to consider these movies beyond entertainment for a specific culture fits well with MOCA's mission. Clearwater says, "So we're really on the cusp on something very interesting that we want to bring to wider attention and see what its cultural and artistic impact its having and, once again, it's happening in MOCA in South Florida."
Follow Hans Morgenstern on Twitter @indieethos.